Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Another day at the NHLPA
Apathy's the word

Given the late-night nature of Sunday's conference call between NHLPA player reps, the media didn't have a whole lot of time on Monday to serve up analysis and reaction. Mostly what we saw was a bare bones account of what happened: Saskin was out and, well, that was that.

Today, as the news cycle spins, there's a whole lot more coming in — so much so that it's difficult to know where to start in addressing all the material that's there.

So, let's go from the top:
I think the one thing that players really need to know now is that it's different now than it used to be. This is a business partnership [with the NHL] where there's invested interest for the players to understand and care about what's going on with the game and the business part of the game. We're doing a disservice to ourselves as players if guys don't take a very active role and really care.
— Kevyn Adams, member of the NHLPA executive committee
I have to be honest, I don't have the interest in it.
— Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin
Before we [the NHLPA] were always winning, so other guys wanted to do it. Now, it's such a [mess] that nobody wants to do it. You're dealing with something every day about something that happened in the past. Young players or older players don't want to deal with it."
— Tampa Bay Lightning rep Tim Taylor
Let's call it apathy, even though there are a number of names for it. Just scan the list of team reps currently handling the union negotiations, and you get an idea the importance being placed on these dealings. (A scratched Rory Fitzpatrick of all people was on the conference call on Sunday from the press box as his Vancouver Canucks teammates skated in a 4-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.)

Of the 29 teams with at least one union rep (Los Angeles traded away both their rep and the alternate at the trade deadline), the wide majority have chosen players who are either very young or those who fill out the bottom half of their team's roster. In terms of all-star calibre players, only Boston Bruins rep Zdeno Chara and alternates Vincent Lecavalier, Andy McDonald, Daniel Briere and Vincent Lecavalier fit the bill, which leaves a rather motley crew filling many of the remaining spots: Steve Ott, Garnet Exelby, Jim Vandermeer, Brad Richardson, Greg Campbell, Rob Davison, Bryan Muir and Ben Clymer (to name just a few).

Gone are the days when it was players like Chris Chelios and Trevor Linden, stars on their respective teams, who took the lead in union dealings. Now, it's a role handed off to whoever wants it — whoever loses the game of 'hot potato', as The Globe and Mail's Tim Wharnsby put it.

It's hard to believe, with so many millions of dollars at stake and the brevity of many of these guys' careers, that so few are willing to step to the plate and play a role in these negotiations.

Speaking of Linden, he, too, is talking out in the wake of Saskin-gate, and he's one of the few boldly backing the union head:
“I don't know much about it, I wasn't on the call,” Linden said. “I knew a lot of the [earlier] allegations thrown around were false and completely bogus. I didn't expect this.” ...

“I'm a big supporter of Ted and think he's a quality individual and did a very good job for our group. I've thought that all along. We had an executive committee that felt strongly about that and recommended him to the board.”
Linden is in a tough spot in all this. He was the NHLPA president when Bob Goodenow was shuttled off and Saskin was appointed leader, the one player who played a starring role in getting the game back on the ice under the hated salary cap.

You have to wonder just what relations between Linden and the ever-growing group of dissidents are like at this point.

It's obvious mistakes were made when Linden et al decided to move away from Goodenow and negotiate a settlement to the lockout in 2005, but how much of that falls at the feet of the Canucks veteran is up for debate. It would seem much of Saskin's current predicament stems from his actions following the end of the lockout, but his appointment continues to be one of the most contentious parts of this whole business.

One wonders if Linden would be better off, perhaps, simply admitting his errs while in the unenviable position he occupied during the lockout.

Of all the copy spent chronicling reactions yesterday, perhaps the most telling bits came from Tim Taylor, the Lightning's veteran plugger/captain/union rep, who seems to have more fire in his belly over the union's dealings than the rest of his compatriots combined:
“Do we know who's in charge right now? Absolutely not,” Tim Taylor said.
“I think it's good we have another independent lawyer coming in to investigate the investigation,” he said sarcastically. “If we keep doing this, the NHLPA will have no money left.

“That's our whole goal, not to give the old players any money at all, I guess.”

More than one player said yesterday that he thinks the players are now united, but it is clear some divisions have not healed.

Taylor said as much when he was asked who was in charge now and mentioned he was opposed to hiring Block as the first to investigate union practices because she has ties to Chelios.

“The only people in charge now are the lawyers trying to do the investigation,” Taylor said. “They're the ones in charge, so Chris Chelios might be in charge now.”
Much of the rest of the coverage, at least on The Globe and Mail's end, surrounds a look at who the potential candidates to replace Saskin are and, perhaps more appropriately, who they should be. Here's Al Maki:
That's why the NHLPA should forget about hiring someone from within the hockey world. Any hockey guy, no matter how respectable, comes with a perceived agenda and with friends and enemies alike. And anyway, it's been tried and the results have been worse than the Chicago Blackhawks' power play.
And that's pretty bad.

For now, it appears Stu 'Grim Reaper' Grimson is in charge, which is a good thing as long as jerseying a few of his opponents in ownership comes into play.

Otherwise, it makes about as much sense as most of the union's recent actions. Which is to say, not much.

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At 8:06 a.m., March 13, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

Maybe they could talk Marvin Miller into coming out of retirement for a short period as interim head of the union.

At 9:17 a.m., March 13, 2007, Blogger BlackCapricorn said...

James- many thanks for continuing to track this story and post the relevant highlights on your blog. I think what we have seen over the last few weeks is very significant not only for the NHLPA now but when their option to disregard the CBA comes up in a few years. Please keep it up!

At 9:41 a.m., March 13, 2007, Anonymous logan said...

Wow... the number of cheapshots taken at various players in that post was amazing.

Part of the new CBA and the partnership involves spending more time marketing players. Star players don;t have as much time for union business, and a lot of them serve as the team liasons and marketing reps.

As for Grimson- did you bother to look into his post-playing career? He went back to school, got his indergraduate degree and then graduated from law school. Too bad some people equate being a fighter with being stupid.

At 11:04 a.m., March 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Other than the fact that we must allow for Stu Grimson's future on the U.S. Supreme Court, the NHLPA is a mess, steered by uneducated boobs who steer a black puck around for millions of dollars. Linden, eyeing a future post in the Canucks front office perhaps, usurped the union, installed his talking-chicken pal, and is now a man on an island. Is it any wonder Alan Eagleson was able to bamboozle these morons for so many decades.
At least they'll still have their trophy wives.

At 11:59 a.m., March 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the problems the players face here is that Saskin is really the only guy who truly knows how revenues are calculated under this CBA. If they throw him under the bus, they are truly starting from scratch in understanding the CBA.

The players, however, brought all of this onto themselves. For years, they let Goodenow keep them in the dark, figuring that as long as they were winning the battle, there was no need to know any details. Now that the owners grew a spine, and Bobby has been vanquished, they discover that their union hasn't been run very democratically. Surprise, surprise.

In case anyone was wondering if this means labour trouble in the NHL, they can relax - it doesn't. You have to be unified to go into battle, and this bunch is about as far from unified as can be. Besides, now that the toothpaste is out of the tube on linkage and a cap, it is never going back in.

At 12:36 p.m., March 13, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

As for Grimson- did you bother to look into his post-playing career? He went back to school, got his indergraduate degree and then graduated from law school.

And that qualifies him to run the NHLPA? I don't even think he can practice law in Ontario. And I also don't believe he has any legal background other than the degree from the University of Memphis.

Given the responsibilities, this group needs someone far more experienced.

At 1:46 p.m., March 13, 2007, Anonymous Scott said...

Grimson's also a non-starter(Mike Gartner too)as he's seen as too involved in all of the post-lockout shenanigans.

At 1:49 p.m., March 13, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

Given the responsibilities, this group needs someone far more experienced.

Absolutely. The only sports union that has been a success is the MLBPA. They started becoming a success when, rather than hiring a baseball guy, they hired Marvin Miller. Miller's background was as a negotiator for the steelworkers' union. If hockey players don't do something similar, they're never going to put it together.

At 4:14 p.m., March 13, 2007, Anonymous JTE said...

Most player reps in MLB aren't stars either. Considering the strength of that union, I don't think any correlation can be made between the athletic abilities of the reps and their effectiveness in the union role, or make any assumptions about how much the other players care.

At 4:28 p.m., March 13, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Aside from the fact most of the stars are saying 'I don't care', right?

At 6:09 p.m., March 13, 2007, Anonymous JTE said...

I haven't canvassed all forms of media and can only go by what I have seen in this post, James, but Mats Sundin is not most stars. Maybe more guys have said that, but last night I saw Robyn Regehr and Brendan Morrisson discussing it in interviews. They are at least solid NHLers, if not stars.

Clearly, Chris Chelios still cares. Brendan Shanahan would care if he could remember anything that happened after 1999.

By no means am I trying to call you out, but I would be interested to know which other players have said they don't care. I am genuinely interested, and not trying to be a smart ass.


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